A Year in Reading: Jenny Offill

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Last year was the year of finishing my novel. I didn’t read as much as usual and what I read, I read with bleary eyes. But one advantage of my mentally wrecked state was that the books that stayed with me really had a dazzle to them. Stylistically or intellectually, I needed someone to overpower me and make me pay attention.

I loved Akiko Busch’s brilliant Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency. It suggests with gentle grace and sly wit the virtues of being inconspicuous, unseen, or unheralded in this over-documented age.

At an airport, I bought Anand Giridharadas’s Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World despite its dubious cover and placement in the business section. So glad I did. Giridharadas has the seemingly impossible ability to turn the analysis of complicated systems into a fascinating page-turner. How? How? I am definitely going to dig my Eat the Rich button out of the box in my closet in his honor.

Finally, I reread one book that I had first read seven years ago and it still contained multitudes. It was written by criminologist Stanley Cohen, and the title says it all: States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering.  It is an unsettling and incredibly lucid book that addresses questions of direct and indirect complicity with great wisdom.  

In fiction and poetry, there were some dazzlers too. I was thrilled to come across Michael Earl Craig’s Talkativeness. His poems are beautiful and beautifully deadpan. I keep returning to them.

Lara Vapnyar’s Divide Me by Zero was another delight. An incredibly inventive and insightful novel about a Russian-American woman whose life falls apart slowly and then all at once.

And Deb Olin Unferth’s Barn 8 isn’t out until March but it’s fantastic and strange. The plot concerns a plan to steal a million chickens so it basically couldn’t be more interesting.